In December, as one of our services in the run-up to Christmas at Bathurst Uniting, we held a Blue Christmas service. A service for people doing it tough at a time of year which is otherwise so relentlessly jolly. For people grieving the loss of a loved one; facing an empty chair at the Christmas table; stressed or distressed by having to put on a ‘happy face’ for the holidays – and frankly, just not up to singing ‘Joy to the World!’ one more time… At our Blue Christmas service, we prayed together, and sat together, and wept together. We acknowledged that the story of the birth of Christ has its dark places, as well as its light ones: places of fear and loss, disruption and danger. We acknowledged that at the heart of the Christmas story is not an escape from this world, in all its pain and struggle, its questions and cries – but God coming into it. Not a promise that all will be well, but that God will be with us in the midst.
‘They will call him Emmanuel – which means, ‘God with us.’…
Amidst the turkey and tinsel, it is easy to forget what an extraordinary, radical idea this is: that God should come to share all the brokenness of humanness with us: to be with us – to walk alongside us – in all our experiences of life and death. The people of Israel had been looking for a Saviour to fix, to enforce, to judge, to rule. Jesus came to walk and talk ‘with’; to eat and drink ‘with’; to laugh and cry ‘with’; to love and labour ‘with’… At the other end of the story, before his death, Jesus promised to be with us when we gather – even two or three of us – in. His name (Matthew 18:20). He says that he is with us when we reach out in compassion to others – since whatever we do for one of the least of his brothers and sisters, we do for Him (Matthew 25:40). And finally, having defeated death itself, the risen Christ assures us that He is with us, even to the end of time (Matthew 28:20).
And of course it’s January now, and Blue Christmas is long over; the blue baubles packed away; the blue candles blown out… But it’s worth remembering. Because ‘Emmanuel’ is not just for Christmas.